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WMATA lays out choices for new 16th Street bus route

WMATA is considering 2 options to add more rush hour service to the 16th Street bus line near downtown. One option would start at either U Street or V Street, and the other would extend up Meridian Hill to Euclid Street.

2 options for a new "short turn" 16th Street bus. Images from WMATA.

The 16th Street buses are overcrowded along the southern part of the S-series Metrobus line in the morning rush. Riders hoping to catch a bus south of Columbia Heights frequently watch one bus after another pass by without stopping, too full to take on any new passengers.

WMATA head bus planner Jim Hamre and his team presented the new route options at a meeting last night organized by Dupont ANC commissioner Kishan Putta.

Both options begin around Meridian Hill, serve all bus stops along 16th Street from there to Lafayette Park, and then run back north without stopping, in order to start over as quickly as possible.

Frequency versus coverage

WMATA only has 2 buses available to run this service, so the options present a choice of high frequency versus greater coverage.

The first option, on the left, is the easiest to operate and provides the greatest frequency. Buses in the morning rush hour would come every 15 minutes, in addition to the existing bus service. But the line would end at either U or V Street, and the crowding problems start farther north.

The second option, on the right, extends up Meridian Hill to Euclid Street. This would reach more passengers, but adds time and complication. Buses would only be able to run every 20 minutes at best. They would also get delayed more often because the streets around Meridian Hill are only a single lane and are often blocked by other vehicles.

Another potential complication for the second option is how buses would get back north. While northbound buses for the U/V Street option could use 14th Street, the only way to keep even 20 minute headways for the Euclid Street option would be to run northbound using 15th Street. 15th Street doesn't currently have any buses, so residents there may have concerns.

Interestingly, Hamre said the worst crowding problems only appear during the morning rush, so this new supplement may only run in the morning. Evening rush hour buses are crowded too, but less excessively so. Riders aren't usually being left behind in the evening.

There was widespread consensus at the meeting to support a rush hour supplement, but residents disagreed over which option is better. Eventually WMATA may be able to add service farther north and still provide good frequencies, but they'll need more buses and more money to do it. In the meantime, they have to make do with only 2 buses, which means trade-offs.

Either way, riders on 16th Street should benefit. Even those from farther north should see improved service, since the buses they're already on will move faster near downtown.

Theoretically the new route will be called the S3, although Hamre didn't commit to that last night.

If everything goes smoothly, the new buses could roll down 16th Street as early as March 24. If there are delays then it could take longer.

Ultimately, Hamre said, WMATA also hopes to start "headway scheduling" on 16th Street. That means they would try to keep buses a certain distance apart rather than meet a predefined schedule. That works for Circulator buses, and for the 70s and 90s series Metrobuses, but it will take longer to implement, and is being considered a separate issue.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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I thought most of the crowding on this route started between Park and Euclid? Seems like the Euclid option might help some, but judging by the potential route it doesn't look like the stop at Euclid can be co-located with the regular S-route stop at Euclid so I'm not sure how many people would be helped at that stop.

by MLD on Feb 21, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

This is a good short-term solution. But was there any discussion about plans for the long-term?

I.e. growing the fleet of buses to respond the growth in population and demands of current ridership? Utilizing longer (accordian?) buses for this heavily-used route? Reallocating buses/drivers from other underutilized routes?

Also: the overcrowding issue affects passengers in the morming at least as far north as the 16th Street Bridge over the Pine Branch Parkway. Anecdotally, I couldn't board the S-line buses numerous times in the morning when I lived in Mt Pleasent.

by Adam on Feb 21, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Run it up to Euclid, no question. The worst two stops on 16th Street at rush hour are, without question, Euclid and Crescent Place. The crowds are unreal. And Euclid is a stop for the S9! Those poor bastards at Crescent Place have it worst.

by sjl on Feb 21, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Dedicated bus lane for morning rush hour! It's going to have to happen at this rate of ridership. This is a nice short-term solution but there's too much traffic on 16th street and something will have to give...

by dc denizen on Feb 21, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

I'd rather it go up at least to Irving Street to get people coming and going from the shopping and other stuff around Columbia Heights station and Mt. Pleasant Street (also, I know there are quite a few people who use the S buses to get between the downtown/mid-city areas and Irving Street when transferring to or from the Green Line at Columbia Heights, particularly when the S9 is running, which can add to the crowding south of there).

by iaom on Feb 21, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Going back north on 14th Street through Thomas Circle is suicide for timeliness. Traffic backs up in myriad ways through that circle morning, noon, and night. I would rather they go with any option that avoids that mess.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 21, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

It's true that going through Thomas Circle on 14th can be bad. I wonder how taking 15th up to Rhode Island Avenue, then turning right on Rhode Island Avenue and left on 14th would work. That would bypass the most quiet residential portion of 15th Street (i.e., the part north of P and south of U) as well.

The more I look at a map the more I can see how impossible this is to plan well.

by iaom on Feb 21, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

No question, it's got to be Euclid. I get on farther up, but we usually start passing people between Irving and Euclid, but certainly before V st. Plus V st to K st is only one mile. Many of those people in between can walk if need be. I agree that morning only is fine. The evening rush is spred quite broadly say 4:30-6:30 or so.

by Alan B. on Feb 21, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

Also, bus lanes absolutely need to happen. It's the densest part of the ciy and there is very limited Metrorail access. Bus lanes or a streetcar should have been implemented on 16th a long time ago. If you polled residents in the area between K and Park I bet you'd get at least 80% in favor of bus lanes or a streetcar.

by Alan B. on Feb 21, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

Maryland commuter buses already use 15th street; there's no reason to avoid it because of "neighborhood concerns." 15th is ridiculously wide and not some sleepy one-lane street.

by MLD on Feb 21, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

Quick history lesson: before Metro was around, 16th street used to have bus lanes!

by MLD on Feb 21, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

@Alan B.: If you polled residents between K and Silver Spring (including the personally important jog over to Georgia on Eastern and Alaska Avenues), you'd probably get 80% in favor of bus lanes on 16th, at least between Park and K. If not also high favorability of a streetcar. Really, that reversing lane on 16th should be used to accomodate a rush hour bus lane (not that the bus lane would be the reversing lane, just that it could be used to accomodate one of the 3 lanes to be a bus lane).

As someone who gets on the S9 at Alaska & Kalmia, I'm all in favor of this proto-S3. Not only would it speed boardings at U (and maybe Euclid), but it would feel less crappy sitting on a bus while passing people standing at a legitimate bus stop.

by EMD on Feb 21, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

Also weighing in for Euclid.

by Gavin on Feb 21, 2013 5:34 pm • linkreport

As a resident one block from Euclid and 16th, definitely in favor of the Euclid option. Though I ride my bike most days when I use the bus that section between Euclid and Irving is packed and definitely could use the extra buses.

My only question is that the map on the right looks like the bus would come back up 15th and then turn left onto Euclid and then left onto 16th to head south. If thats the case wouldnt the bus stop for 16th and Euclid have to be relocated as the stop is at north of Euclid on 16th?

Not sure where that would go if that is the case as Howard shuttles are already on Euclid and there really isnt room for a bus stop south of Euclid since Kalaroma is right there.

Would the bus then be turning west further north, say on Columbia before heading south?

by Ryan S. on Feb 21, 2013 5:50 pm • linkreport

15th Street doesn't currently have any buses, so residents there may have concerns.

About what? A bus running through their street? I am sorry, that is to be expected when you live in a big city.

by Jasper on Feb 21, 2013 8:59 pm • linkreport

Definitely Euclid. If the point is to ease bus congestion and grouping then you should service the area where congestion and grouping becomes an issue...not 5 stops later.

I lived at 16th and Euclid for a year. I can't tell you the number of times we waited for a space while bus after bus passed us.

Also: enough people get off at U Street that the buses aren't packed there.

by Michael on Feb 21, 2013 9:47 pm • linkreport

The future of transit is developing hyper local options, like a bus that runs between U and K on 16th, and another that would just go up and down 14th between Columbia Heights and u Street. They should just set up a bunch of songthaews.

by Sluggo on Feb 21, 2013 10:17 pm • linkreport

I agree with MLD and Jasper: run the deadheading buses back north along 15th St. This will allow for the buses to return to the northern-most stop more consistently and quickly. 15th St being one way NB and w/o traffic circles is a much better candidate. Two buses running non-stop NB only during the morning rush approx every 15 minutes should not cause "neighbor concerns."

Seems to me WMATA should better educate folks on why they cannot fix this: DDOT needs to budget for more service (not ask Metro to shift service, robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak) from WMATA.

WMATA maybe needs to shift bus routes around their various garages so they can run more service out of their large, shiny new bus garage near the WASA plant to free up buses at the bus barn on 14th and Buchanan for the 16th Street "S" buses.

by Transport. on Feb 21, 2013 10:35 pm • linkreport

I get the fact that they want to run buses from the southernmost spot back to the northern end with no stops so they can start everything over again quickly and on time.

But why not run that as a quick "express" route northbound?

If even one paying customer rides northbound, that would be better than nothing. Otherwise, it's a completely wasted run.

I realize it wouldn't be a high-demand run, but what the hell. Making a buck is better than no money at all. The bus will burn the same amount of fuel anyway.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 21, 2013 10:42 pm • linkreport

Also, enough people get off at U Street that the buses aren't packed there

That's not even remotely true unless you're talking about NB buses in the evening. I try to take the bus every day from 16th and U down to 16th and M. If I get to the bus stop after 8am, I might as well walk because odds are at least 3 out of 5 buses are too full to pick up any passengers (they'll generally open the back door to let anyone off and maybe 2 people might alight).

Luckily, I work at 17th and M so, like Alan B. says, I can walk, but if I'm willing to pay, wouldn't WMATA want my business? That and my commute actually begins at 12th and W, which is about 1.4 miles, so taking a bus would be nice, particularly on colder and hotter days.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 21, 2013 11:15 pm • linkreport

I was thinking that too, Geoffrey. On the other hand every extra minute spent on a few passengers going up 15 is few minutes that can be spent on those coming down 16th. Deadheading is probably most efficient from a moving people perspective.

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 8:57 am • linkreport

I live on 15th St. next to Meridian Hill Park and use the 16th & Euclid stop, where I am frequently passed by bus after bus during the AM rush. The 15th St. return route makes complete sense, considering the width of 15th, the fact that it is one-way (and so doesn't face counterflow for buses turning left), and that the streetlights are all synced up.

The only real issue (as others have noted) is that the westbound turn onto Euclid, followed by southbound turn onto 16th, would skip the existing 16th & Euclid stop for the S1/2/4/9. Since the major congestion begins farther north, it seems this proposed route wouldn't necessarily help. Why not head a bit farther north on 15th (e.g. to Columbia), before turning around back onto 16th?

Also, regarding the author's comment: "15th Street doesn't currently have any buses, so residents there may have concerns." This seems like a baseless point to make, since MTA commuter buses currently head north on 15th during the PM rush. Besides, 15th St. is 3 lanes wide (excl. parking) until 15th & W, which already promotes unnecessarily high-speed traffic. If residents along that stretch of 15th are comfortable with the existing traffic (and commuter bus) flow, what's another two buses running during the AM rush?

by JM on Feb 22, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

Agree with Transport that the District needs to pony up for this service.

by Ben on Feb 22, 2013 9:33 am • linkreport

I would think they're too optimistic about the turn times for the route back up 14th. It would have to traverse downtown further, it would have to navigate Thomas Circle, and 14th St. traffic is much heavier.

15th St (one-way north) is pretty empty that time of morning. And since the buses won't stop there noise from them would be minimal.

by Tom Coumaris on Feb 22, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

I agree, if it works timewise, go up to Columbia & 15th and you can start picking up people at Harvard.

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

If the S3 goes up 15th and turns left on Fuller, it can pick up passengers at the Euclid stop. The problem, I think, is that the intersection of 15th and Fuller is much smaller than the one at 15th and Euclid (the NW corner at Euclid is rounded, giving the bus a wider turning radius).

Can any bus experts take a look at the intersections on google maps and tell if that's the likely issue?

by 7r3y3r on Feb 22, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

@Alan B., I'm not sure a bus can make that left turn from 15th on to Columbia Rd without having to do an Austin Powers 30 point turn.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 22, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

At Fuller or Columbia the street is really not wide enough for the bus to easily make the turn. And at Columbia it's an extremely sharp turn.

When the H8 used to turn from Columbia onto 15th during its reroute, it would get stuck regularly and have to do the Austin Powers turn. Even the 30-foot short buses had issues.

by MLD on Feb 22, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

In the Metrobus 16th Street Line Study completed in 2009, AM peak period short turn service was recommended for the segment of 16th Street south of Spring Road. However, this service was not implemented due to opposition from residents on Arkansas Avenue to buses operating on their street coming from the Northern Bus Garage at 14th & Buchanan streets. This would have provided the additional service needed to alleviate the overcrowding occurring on 16th Street below the Woodner Apartments.

Future service improvements recommended in the 14th Street Line Study will help overcrowding on 16th Street in addition to serving the anticipated demand occurring on 14th Street with the opening of a large number of new apartment buildings south of Columbia Heights in this corridor. Some riders on upper 14th Street indicated in the 50s Line Study that they walk over to 16th Street to use the new Route S9 service due to its improved reliability. Recommended improvements for 14th Street include a proposed new Route 59 limited stop service between Takoma Metro Station and Federal Triangle, an extension of Route 53 from Franklin Square to 14th & G Streets and a rerouting and change in the southern terminal of Route 52 from L'Enfant Plaza Station to Waterfront Station.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 22, 2013 10:59 am • linkreport

Has headway scheduling actually worked on the 90 line?

WMATA announced a whole slew of improvements for that corridor a few years ago, implemented one or two of them, and stamped the project as 'Done' in their books.

Since headway scheduling was implemented, I've noticed considerably less bunching, but that seems to be primarily because there are just fewer buses on the route. Headways remain pitiful, and the route still has way too many stops.

Why is it so difficult to replicate the obvious success of the 14th St Circulator in other parts of the city?

by andrew on Feb 22, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

Why is it so difficult to replicate the obvious success of the 14th St Circulator in other parts of the city?
For one, the 90 bus route is more than twice the length of the 14th st Circulator and traverses many more traffic screw-ups. That said I think service along there could be a lot better. Unfortunately that is not likely to happen until the U Street construction project is done.

@Douglas Stallworth
Back when I lived at 11th & Harvard I used to walk past 14th to 16th instead of getting on a bus at 14th - the 14th street buses are terrible in comparison.

by MLD on Feb 22, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Anyone who objects to "buses operating on their streets" should receive a lifetime ban from using any public transit and have any on street parking priveleges revoked. :P

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport


I had the same idea, so I checked google maps' measuring tool. I don't know how wide a street needs to be for a bus to run on it or turn off of it, but Euclid appears to be about six feet wider than Fuller (~28 feet as opposed to ~22 feet curb to curb).

by CapHill on Feb 22, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

An idea: Run the deadhead buses up 15th through the Mid-City area (to avoid Thomas Circle), veer right on to Florida, take Florida to 14th (as I've seen other deadhead buses doing), turn left on 14th, take 14th to Columbia (where there's a dedicated left turn lane) and turn left. Take Columbia to 16th, turn left, and the buses can start picking up 16th and Harvard!

by David T. on Feb 22, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport


Headway management has improved the bus bunching and some of the reliability problems on the 90s Line. The major improvement from the 90s Line study, implementation of the Route 99 limited stop service, is awaiting the availablity of additional vehicles to operate this service. The Route 99 will operate between Anacostia Station and Dupont Circle with only 18 stops and will provide a direct connection between the U Street corridor and Dupont Circle.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 22, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

The downside for the Euclid option presented is that left-turn form Euclid to 16th. I don't know how many times I had to wait through a couple of light-cycles to make any progress at that intersection.

If they'll fit, take the bus a block further north to Fuller. Its a one-way west-bound so there wouldn't be any oncoming traffic at the left-turn to 16th and they could use the existing stop at Euclid.

by Michael on Feb 22, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

In the morning the left turn from Euclid is not very congested. Also there is a left turn arrow there now that gives cars going west on Euclid priority at the intersection.

by MLD on Feb 22, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

I read the annual cost for this will be $130K. It seems that will be more than made up for with additional fares from people who now take cabs or walk because of the difficulty getting on a bus.

Of course if, as likely, they go with the U-to-H option that's only 1 mile and maybe more people should be walking.

by Tom Coumaris on Feb 22, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

Of course if, as likely, they go with the U-to-H option that's only 1 mile and maybe more people should be walking

That's assuming their commute starts and ends at the bus stops, which is highly unlikely. But I'll bite, why should more people walk that commute?

by 7r3y3r on Feb 22, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

Just a reminder to all those who want this proposed new "S3" service to begin revenue service further north along 16th St (nearside Euclid): The loger the route, the less frequent these buses become.

The indication was there are only two buses available. One additional bus every 15/20 minutes on 16th Street, I hate to say it, is like a drop in a bucket. It will most certainly help and we are lucky WMATA was able to identify two buses, but this is supposed to be a quick and short term solution. Sending these two new buses any further north than U or V street is asking for delays and an unreliable service. It would be nice to send them further north, but more than two buses are needed.

As I noted above and as Ben (@9:33) agreed, DDOT/DC really need to allow WMATA to build another bus garage or WMATA needs to shift bus routes among its existing garages so more service can be operated out of Northern Division along 14th and 16th streets. DDOT/DC also needs to pay for more buses and more bus service. (Does anyone know if the brand new bus garage near the WASA treatment plant off I-295 is already at capacity?)

Like the S buses started a few years ago, with all the growth, now the 50's line buses are starting to get overcrowded... and these bus lines are only two blocks apart! That's a lot of people wanting transit in that two block north-south corridor.

by Transport. on Feb 22, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

I wounder if they could wedge a new bus garage into the Walter Reed Development. Probably not gonna happen.

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

@Douglas Stallworth:

Do you know if the two buses alotted for this new a.m. only southbound rush service will operate out of the Northern division?

by Transport. on Feb 22, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

Looks like the Northern Bus Garage on Decatur is what 8 acres? I bet you could do a cool parking structure cum bus garage there without completely ruining the site for other uses. And it would take some of the pressure off Ward 5 so maybe it would have some support though I doubt Ms. Bowser would be happy.

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport


All of the 16th Street Line service operates out of the Northern Division along with other major NW DC routes including the 50s, 60s and 70.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 22, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

@Alan B.

Bowser would certainly be unhappy, and rightfully so. That bus garage is in a terrible spot, and is in a terrific spot for redevelopment. Those 8 acres are worth 20 million+, and people actually want to live there. Better places can certainly be found that in the heart of 16th St Heights.

by Kyle-W on Feb 22, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

Kyle, that's true from an economic standpoint which I don't discount. But it's a slippery slope to put them all in Ward 5 too as has been discussed. Plus that location is literally right on top of 3 of the highest ridership lines in the city.

by Alan B. on Feb 22, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

Lots of valid comments but many don't take into consideration that Metro has said they only have 2 busses available right now (make that one bus on the days when there are engine problems). What's needed from Metro is a 3 stage solution: 1) immediate solution with 2 buses 2) when will more buses become available for intermediate solution 3) committment for long term solution time frame. MD commuter busses use 15th all the time. Adding 3 or 4 Metro busses per hour for two hours in the AM should not even be a consideration.

by Greg D on Feb 22, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

Walter Reed was a good location for a new bus garage and it's stupid that one councilmember (Bowser) could kill it, and it should be revisited. The current location is too small - that's why they need a new one.

by MLD on Feb 22, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

@MLD. Take it a step further. Bowser is the Council representative to the WMATA Board. WMATA is in dire need to reign in its operational budget. One solution is to consolidate two outdated facilities: Northern and Western Bus Garages into a single, modern facility that isn't too far from both Silver Spring and Friendship Heights.

So, rather than act in the interests of WMATA, she acts in the interests of her Sherpard Park constituents.

I understand the need to cater to the political wheelhouse, but at best, she should have recused herself from the deliberations.

It is a lost opportunity for the region and for WMATA.

by Andrew on Feb 22, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

@Douglas Stallworth: thanks for the reply.

Do you know if the new bus division near the DC WASA plant (is it "Shepard Pkwy"?) is already at capacity? If it is, why? If it is not, can bus routes be shifted among the existing garages to free up capacity? For example, can a Bladensburg route be shifted to the new DC WASA garage and perhaps the 60s buses shift from Northern to Bladensburg? I realize this does not solve the issue of obtaining more buses, but the garage capacity could at least be addressed if more buses are purchased.

by Transport. on Feb 22, 2013 7:07 pm • linkreport

@ Transport

The Shepherd Parkway Division is at 2/3 capacity but the remaining capacity is available for future expansion of the lines in that division's quadrant.

The routes currently operating out of Northern Division need to stay at that garage because it most directly and reliably serves the routes in the northwest sector of the city east of Rock Creek Park. At Northern, the main constraint along with vehicle capacity, is maintenance capacity. More articulated buses are needed on the S Line but there is no more room for additional lifts to maintain these vehicles beyond the 20 artics currently at Northern used on the 70 and S routes.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 25, 2013 9:28 am • linkreport

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